Adam cowers under the cushions as his father lashes out at his mother. He tries to drown out the noise as his mother pleads with his father to stop. Adam puts his hand to his mouth to stifle his own cries. He knows that to draw attention to himself will result in him also being dragged off the chair and pushed to the floor just as his mother had been. His heart pounds in his chest. He is terrorized, and yet he is powerless. As powerless as his poor mother, if not more so.
Later, when his father storms out of the room and he hears the front door slam, Adam goes towards his mother, who is sobbing uncontrollably. She draws him to her and hugs him close to her chest.
“It’s OK, Adam,” she says through her tears. “It’s nothing really, don’t tell anyone. Daddy doesn’t mean to do me any harm.” Adam cannot internalize such a confusing message. He is, after all, only six years old.
How is it that his father, the fun-loving, easy-going person who brings chocolates and flowers for mommy and toys and books for him can become so wild and lash out like a crazy animal? Daddy always tells Mommy that he loves her. He always tells Adam to be good boy for mommy. Adam just does not understand.
He wakes up to arguing. “Please don’t hit me,” his mother begs. Adam hears the clattering and banging of dishes in the kitchen. His mother screams. He hears a loud thud. That feeling of terror wells up inside him. The front door slamming and then - silence. Adam creeps into the kitchen to see his mother laying on the floor bleeding. She whispers to him, “Go next door, Adam. Get Sima (the neighbor).”
He hears the sirens of the ambulance. Sima puts her hands to his ears and tries to soothe him as he sobs uncontrollably. A kind police officer is trying to calm him. She offers him chocolate and toys. She tells him not to worry, that Mom will be OK but that they must go away to be safe. He is confused and scared. The police officer instructs Sima to pack a bag for Adam’s mother and one for him.
Adam and his mother are reunited at the hospital. She tells Adam that he has to be a big brave boy now, that she was sorry that he had to witness her being hurt by Dad, and she knew that it hurt Adam to see it. It was the very first time that Mom did not apologize for Dad’s behaviour, the very first time she actually admitted that Dad had done something wrong.
Adam and his mother were given refuge at a WIZO shelter for battered women. When they first arrived, Adam began wetting the bed. At first he refused to speak to the child psychologist, or to join in activities with the other children living at the shelter. His mother seemed to be occupied, she was always talking to the social workers and housemother and she had found her smile. She would say to Adam, “we are safe here. No one can harm us.”
The pair spent over six months at the WIZO shelter, in which time Adam’s mother benefited from legal advice and counselling. She started to make plans for a life far away from the husband that she now believed would one day murder her. Adam settled down at a school near the shelter and started to open up to the WIZO shelter child psychologist assigned to him. The heavy load of doubt lifted from his little shoulders.
Adam’s mother picks up the pieces of her life. She has learned to value herself more and is equipped for a new life far removed from the abuse she once suffered. For Adam, the scars take longer to heal. He is just a child - and growing up is difficult enough without the inner turmoil of his early years witnessing the violence of one parent who he loves dearly towards another who he also loves with all his heart yet was always powerless to protect.
For Adam, for his mother, for the many thousands of families living with domestic abuse and the many tens of thousands of children who live in the shadows of this plague in Israel, there is WIZO to turn to. Through its care, counselling, guidance and education, the victims, their families and even the perpetrators are given the tools they need to end this cycle of violence, despair and destruction - thus building a stronger, more resilient Israeli society.
(Names changed to preserve anonymity)
(Photo for illustration purposes only)